This playground is located on Frost Street at Debevoise Avenue in the Cooper Park Houses complex. Frost Street was formerly known as Bennett Street for William Adriana Bennett, an early Bushwick landowner. In 1912 the street was renamed for Edmund Frost, a land dealer and president of the Board of Trustees of Williamsburg in the 1830s.
The Cooper Houses take their name from philanthropist, industrialist, and inventor Peter Cooper (1791-1883) whose glue factory was located in the neighborhood from the 1830s to the 1870s. Cooper was a native New Yorker and workingman’s son with less than a year of formal schooling, who became one of the most successful American businessmen of his day. He made his fortune in iron, glue, railroads, real estate and communications. His inventions include the first trans-Atlantic telegraph cable and Tom Thumb, America’s first functioning steam engine. Cooper also invented Jello--with help from his wife, Sarah, who added fruit to his clarified gelatin. Despite his many successful ventures, Cooper captured only 81,737 popular votes in his bid for the presidency in 1876.
Peter Cooper dedicated his life and wealth to philanthropy, to ensure that immigrants and children of the working class would have access to the education that he never had. Believing that education should be “as free as water or air,” in 1859 he established the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, a coeducational college which continues to provide students with full-tuition scholarships in architecture, art, and engineering. Celebrated features of the institution included a free reading room and the Great Hall, which provided the setting for one of Abraham Lincoln’s campaign speeches on February 27, 1860.
In 1821 Cooper purchased a working glue factory in Kips Bay. He stated, “I determined to make the best glue, and found out every method and ingredient looking to that end, and so it has always been in demand.” In 1838 he relocated the business to Maspeth Avenue in Brooklyn, a strategic site which had access to roads connecting with New York-bound ferries and Long Island farms. When Cooper retired from the glue business in 1865, he sold the factory to family members. The company moved to Smith Island in Newtown Creek in 1878 and left Brooklyn for good in the 20th century. The Gowanda, New York headquarters of the Peter Cooper Glue Company closed in the early 1990s.
In 1951 the City of New York acquired the L-shaped parcel surrounded by Frost Street, Morgan Avenue, Maspeth Avenue, Debevoise Avenue, Jackson Street, and Kingsland Avenue for the Cooper Park Houses. In 1957 the New York City Housing Authority leased the .739-acre parcel to the City for parks purposes, and the site was developed as a playground with wading pool, comfort station, handball and volleyball courts, and play equipment.
Council Member Victor L. Robles funded the $775,000 capital reconstruction of Frost Playground which was completed in 1999. The handball wall, fencing, seating area, lighting, and drainage and water supply were improved. New features include planting beds, drinking fountain, curbs and pavements, perimeter fencing and gates, north arrow rosette, and play equipment for tots and children, including children with disabilities.
The design of the playground pays tribute to poet Robert Frost (1874-1963). The lyrical works of this four-time Pulitzer Prize winner have been cherished by generations. A fence decorated with fireflies and stars takes its cue from Frost’s poem “Fireflies in the Garden.” Words from the poem appear in a winding path from the western entrance to the center of the playground. This poem and many of Frost’s other works offer explorations of nature. Another of this poems, “Tree at my window,” begins:
Tree at my window, window tree,
My sash is lowered when night comes on;
But let there never be curtain drawn
Between you and me.